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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 22 Oregon State

Under Mike Riley, the Beavers have been dangerous -- just ask USC.

August 13, 2009

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 22 Oregon St.

This ranking may seem high for a school that scored three points in the Sun Bowl last year -- and won -- and also loses eight starters on defense.

But it's also time Mike Riley's program gets a little benefit-of-doubt love. USC, which lost last year to Oregon State, turns its defensive roster over and no one thinks twice putting the Trojans back in the preseason top 10.

Oregon State loses players and gets tossed in the rankings sock drawer. It's just not right.

Part of what perpetuates the Pacific 10 Conference's national perception problem is when people refer to USC's loss in Corvallis last year as "shocking," even though the Beavers were coming off a 9-4 season in 2007, and a 10-4 season in 2006 that included -- wait, what's this? -- another "shocking" win against USC.

Riley, with a 5-0 bowl record, has done such a solid job since returning to Corvallis in 2003 that you think USC would have been just fine in 2001 had it hired him instead of Pete Carroll. Remember, that was the plan had Riley been able to untangle his ties to the San Diego Chargers.

It's also time to bury the myth of Oregon State as the poor underdog program that went three decades without a winning season -- that was a lot of sawed-off logs ago.

Since 1999, Oregon State has had eight winning years -- but no one in the South says, "Oregon State, they don't rebuild, they just reload."

Well, guess what: Oregon State had seven players taken in this year's NFL draft. Georgia had six.

How many people know Oregon State has defeated Notre Dame twice this decade in bowl games -- 2000-season Fiesta, 2004 Insight -- by the combined score of 79-30?

Oregon State is never going to be able to take its pick off Rivals' top-100 prospects recruiting list -- we'll take two five-star quarterbacks, three tailbacks and . . . don't forget a receiver -- but the Beavers have a penchant for finding overlooked and undervalued players and then nurturing them into players who can, two out of the last three years, defeat USC in Corvallis.

Jacquizz Rodgers, the jitterbug freshman tailback who rushed for 186 yards against USC last year, broke the Texas state prep record with 136 touchdowns and somehow sneaked out of the state. Maybe it's because he's only 5 feet 7.

The losses on defense are huge, or maybe not if you saw Oregon amass 694 total yards last year in a 65-38 win. With Jacquizz and James Rodgers back on offense, though, and experience at quarterback, there's no reason to think Oregon State can't win nine again.

Slow starts have made it easy to forget about Oregon State early. The Beavers are only 2-4 in their first two games since 2006, but this year they start at home against Portland State, at Nevada Las Vegas, and then come home for Cincinnati and Arizona.

A 4-0 start heading to Arizona State on Oct. 3 isn't impossible. And, if Oregon State can win at Tempe and then defeat Stanford in Corvallis on Oct. 10, the Beavers could be 6-0 and on their way to USC.

Think the Trojans will be ready?

The rankings so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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